different kind of fresh vegetables and fruits

Wondering what makes food organic?

You’ve come to the right article!

Agriculture today uses more chemicals than ever before. If you’re not careful, a lot of them are going to end up in your food – and in your body.

Pesticides, fertilizer residue and synthetic additives have serious health effects. Plus, unsustainable farming practices pose a serious threat to the environment.

Eating organic is the best way to protect yourself and make a stand against ecological destruction.

Many people are put off by the extra price or don’t think it’s worth the effort to find organic produce, but choosing organic is one of the most important decisions you can make.

Here’s what you need to know:

What Makes Food Organic?

Eco badge organic food showing what makes food organic

The most widespread standard for organic food is the USDA organic certification.

If you see a “USDA Organic” or “Certified Organic” label, that means the ingredients must be 95% certified organic: free from most pesticides, chemical fertilizers and dyes, and other synthetic additives. They must be non-GMO and processed without industrial solvents or irradiation.

The other 5%, unfortunately, is up for grabs.

The standards have also eroded in recent years, thanks to political pressure from lobbyists. As of 2006, 38 synthetic ingredients are allowed in certified organic foods.

Foods labeled “100% organic” are at least free from anything except these loophole chemicals.

Food labeled “Made With Organic” must be at least 70% certified organic.

Vague labels like “Natural,” “Free range,” “No chemicals” or “Antibiotic free” are almost meaningless. They’re not backed by any real standards.

Aside from the USDA, the certifications with some clout are:

  • Aurora Certified Organic
  • Food Alliance (FA)
  • Demeter Certified Biodynamic
  • Global Organic Alliance (GOA)
  • OneCert
  • Integrity Certified International

These certifications might not be perfect, but looking out for them will help you keep the chemicals in your food to a minimum.

Reasons to Eat Organic

There are tons of reasons to make organic food a priority – enough to fill a book! It basically breaks down into two angles: your health and the world’s health.

  • You: Hormones, antibiotics, fertilizer and pesticide residue in food are associated with a slew of severe health issues, including cancer, reproductive problems, endocrine disruption and higher risks of developmental disabilities. The FDA’s standards are much too lax to protect you, not to mention growing children, for whom the effects are even more serious.
  • The Earth: What happens to all the pesticides and fertilizers that are sprayed over crops? The chemicals soak into the ground, destroying the natural balance of micro-organisms and depleting the soil, and then drain into the local groundwater. Over time, this causes severe harm to the ecosystem, as well as the health of people who live nearby. Meanwhile, the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals is paving the way for drug-resistant “super germs.”

As you can see, there are some pretty heavy issues on the line.

Organic produce may cost you an extra dollar here or there, but I think your health – and the future of life on Earth – is worth it.

Supply and demand might save the world here. If there’s enough demand for organic food, more growers will switch to sustainable methods. Eventually, it will become cheaper and easier to find.

In fact, it’s started already. Even Walmart and Costco now have some organic selection!

The Clean Fifteen and the Dirty Dozen

Close up of red strawberries

But what if you can’t find it organic?

Don’t panic…but maybe don’t buy it.

There are some fruits and vegetables that have a relatively low pesticide low. If you have to buy these non-organic, just wash them well. These are the “clean fifteen:”

  1. Avocado
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Cabbage
  5. Sweet peas
  6. Onion
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mango
  9. Papaya
  10. Kiwi
  11. Eggplant
  12. Honeydew melon
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Cantaloupe
  15. Cauliflower

Others, known as the “dirty dozen,” are heavy in pesticides. In some of them, especially strawberries, the chemicals are absorbed into the fruit and impossible to remove. You should buy these organic or not at all:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Apple
  3. Nectarine
  4. Peach
  5. Celery
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Spinach
  9. Tomato
  10. Sweet Bell Pepper
  11. Cherry Tomato
  12. Cucumber

Eat Clean

Food Table Healthy Delicious Organic Meal Concept

Even if it’s organic, you should still wash your fruits and vegetables well before eating them.

Rinse your produce under the tap for at least thirty seconds, rubbing it with your fingers or a vegetable brush. Veggies with a lot of crevasses, like broccoli or lettuce, should soak for a minute or two.

Never use soap! The residue is harmful and hard to remove.

You can use specialized natural vegetable washes, or make your own with one part vinegar, two parts water. However, a thorough scrub under tap water is just as effective.